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7 Tips To Getting Things Done In Law School (And In Life!)

Written by Brett McKay

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To say law school is hard is an understatement. Not only is it intellectually challenging, it is a huge time commitment. I have classes, reading and writing assignments, outlining, job interviews, extracurricular activities, and (somehow) a social and family life to cram into one week. Sometimes it feels like I can never get it all done. But success in law school requires me to get as much of it done as I can. That’s why effective time management is the key to law school success. Here’s a list of 7 things you can do to help you manage your time more effectively in law school and in your life.

  1. Get a planner or calendar. You can’t get by in law school without some sort of calendar or planner. There are tons of options for one to choose from. You can go with a paper based system or a digital one. Each one has their pros and cons. You can find good paper based planners at any office supply store or you can make your own like I did. If you want to go digital, Microsoft Outlook, iCal for Mac, and Google Calendar are great applications for planning. Find what works for you.
  2. Plan and review weekly. After you get your calendar, pick a day each week to review the past week and plan the upcoming one. When you plan, first start with scheduling “hard” appointments. These are items that you have to go to like classes, interviews, or Dr. appointments. Second, plan when you’re going to read each day. Set aside enough time to finish the assignment. Third, plan when you’re going to outline and review notes. Finally, plan when you’re going to work on any writing assignments. At the end of the week, review what you got done, what didn’t get done, and how you can improve next week.
  3. Plan and review daily. Because you’ve already planned your week out, daily planning shouldn’t take that long. It’s basically to review what you got going on that day so you can prepare yourself accordingly. You’ll also be able to make changes to your plan if circumstances have changed.
  4. Write everything down. Don’t trust your brain to remember assignments. Always write things down. Create a place where you can collect information in one spot. If you have notes everywhere, your brain has to remember where you put each one. It does you no good to write things down if you can’t remember where you wrote it down. If you use a planner, that’s a perfect place to collect information. If a planner isn’t your thing, carry around a couple of 3×5 index cards in your back pocket. Whenever you want to remember something, write it down. At the end of the day, review the notes you’ve collected and sync them with some sort of calendar.
  5. Practice the 45/15 rule. If you have trouble with procrastinating or if the thought of reading for 2 hours straight makes you want to stab yourself in the eye, try implementing the 45/15 rule. What you do is make a commitment to work 45 minutes straight without distractions. After 45 minutes, reward yourself by taking a 15 minute break. Surf the web, go to the vending machine and buy a pop, or go talk to someone. After the 15 minutes is up, get back to work for another 45. By breaking up your time like this, you’ll avoid feeling overwhelmed. It also aids in beating fatigue, so you’ll be even more productive when you’re actually working.
  6. Avoid distractions. Distractions can kill any well thought out plan. Find out what your distractions are and kill them. Mine is surfing the web. That’s why whenever I need to get something done, I’ll turn off my wireless so I’m not tempted to surf the web.
  7. Read up on productivity and time management. There are tons of great resources out there on how to be more productive. Two great books are Getting Things Done by David Allen and First Things First by Stephen Covey. They’re both easy reads and filled with practical tips on how to be more effective with your time. On the web, there are tons of blogs dedicated to productivity and time management. Three of the best resources include lifehacker.com, zenhabits.net, and lifehack.org. Also make sure to check out Legal Andrew for articles on productivity from the law student’s perspective. I also write quite a bit about productivity here at The Frugal Law Student, so make sure to subcribe to my RSS feed.

What do you all do to get more done during the day? Please share with the rest of us!

How Long Should You Keep Financial Records?

Written by Brett McKay

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Managing your money creates a lot of paper work. Your desk drawers can quickly fill with tax returns, bills, and bank statements. I know there are times when I feel like I’m swimming in financial paperwork. Well, here are some tips on exactly how long you should hold on to old financial records.

IRA Contributions

You receive different types of statements about your IRA: one is to show how much you’ve contributed; the other is to show how much you have in your account. You get the latter type of statement once every a quarter with a summary at the end of the year.

How long should you keep them? You’ll want to hold on to your records of IRA contributions until you withdraw the money during retirement in order to prove you already paid the tax on your contributions. You can get rid of the quarterly statements as soon as you match them with your yearly statement. You’ll want to keep the yearly statements until you start withdrawing.

Bank Records

These are probably the things that are taking up the most space. You get these once a month. They include statements of how much is in your savings and checking accounts, as well as your credit card balance.

How long should you keep them? It depends on what type of bank record it is. If it’s a record related to taxes and home improvements you should hold on to it. You should also hold on to credit card statements that contain tax related purchases for up to seven years. You can dump your monthly bank statements. Just make sure to shred them before you do.

Bills

Bills. Boo. Most people get rid of these suckers as soon as they pay them.

How long should you keep them? You can get rid of most bills once you pay them off. However, keep bills for larger purchases, like cars and jewelry, for as long as you own the property. They’ll be useful for insurance purposes.

Tax Returns

You get a copy of your return that you send to the IRS. These actually come in handy when filling out financial aid. Included with your tax returns are pay stubs and receipts that support deductions.

How long should you keep them? The general guideline given is to keep tax records for seven years. While the IRS has 10 years to assess taxes that you didn’t pay, they usually bring up challenges way before the 10 year period has elapsed.

Brokerage Statements

If you invest, you’ll get monthly statements telling you how much you’ve made each month.

How long should you keep them? Keep brokerage statements until you sell the investment. You’ll use them to prove your capital gains or losses when you do your taxes.

How to file this crap

Filing your financial documents doesn’t have to be a pain. Here are some quick tips on how to effectively file.

  • Get a small portable file box with manila folders.
  • Divide your file box into years.
  • Subdivide your years by the different financial paper work you receive: bank statements, brokerage statements, tax returns, IRA contributions, house payments, ect.
  • Go through files monthly and yearly and dump things you don’t need.
  • Make sure to shred financial documents to maintain privacy.

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[tags]taxes, GTD, personal finance[/tags]

Do You Suffer From Digital Pack Rat-itis? Here’s Your Prescription.

Written by Brett McKay

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Talk of the Nation had an interesting segment yesterday about pack rats. Neal Conan interviewed Mark McCluskey, products editor at Wired magazine, about how hoarding has gone digital.

Unlike analog pack rats who love collecting things, digital pack rats love collecting content. Analog pack rats love the tactile experience of holding an old vinyl album or smelling an old book. Analog pack rats generally don’t even listen to the records or read the books that they hold on to. Digital pack rats on the other hand love collecting information. They like knowing that somewhere in their computer or external hard drive lies a golden nugget of information.

I know I’m guilty of both, but more so with digital hoarding. I have emails from three years ago still on my account. I know I’ll never read them, but I just don’t have the heart to delete them. It’s like my little collection of letters tied with a digital bow that I keep in my digital attic. Instead of old drawings from kindergarten, my computer is overflowing with undergrad papers that I wrote years ago. I have no desire to read my research paper on the philosophy of language, but I don’t want to delete it.

However, analog and digital hoarding can cost people time and money. Important things or information can get lost in the clutter of stuff that you hold on to. That bill that was due yesterday is probably lost in the huge piles of paper sitting on your desk. My computer is starting to slow down because of all the crap that’s on it.

GTD: Just What the Dr. Ordered

My prescription to you is buying a copy Getting Things Done by David Allen. GTD will help you eliminate clutter and focus on the important things in your life. Below is a short list of resources about GTD and decluttering that I have used to cure myself of pack rat-itis.

Warning: Take productivity in moderation

In your quest to heal yourself of pack rat-itis, don’t replace your obsession with collecting “stuff” with an obsession of productivity. My own experience has shown me that one can get so obsessed with GTD and life hacks that you end up less productive than before. If you take productivity in moderation and you should be alright.

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[tags] GTD, life hack, productivity, NPR, Zen Habits[/tags]

GTD and Your Finances: The Weekly Money Review

Written by Brett McKay


I’m a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. It’s helped me get more out of my time than any other time management system I’ve used. A key element for the system to work is the weekly review. During a weekly review you should:

  • Pull out all loose papers, receipts, post-its, etc., and put in your inbox. Process your inbox.
  • Process your notes.
  • Review previous and upcoming calendar data to trigger next actions.
  • Mind dump – empty your head of everything not already in the system. Process it as you would your inbox.
  • Review next-action lists, project lists, waiting-on list, and someday/maybe list.
  • Review your goals.

The idea is to clear your head of all the stuff going on in your life, so you don’t have to worry about it.

While the weekly review is an awesome time management tool, it can also be an amazing personal finance tool. By doing a weekly review of your personal finances, you’re more likely to maintain your budget and accomplish your personal finance goals. A suggested personal finance weekly review would consist of:

  • Pulling together all receipts, bills, ect collected from purchases during the week
  • Processing those receipts, bills, ect in your personal finance tracker
  • Reviewing total income and expenses during the week.
  • Review investments and adjust them if needed.
  • Review upcoming bills and expenses to trigger next actions (i.e. paying the bill)
  • Mind dump- think of the things you’ve been thinking about when it comes to your finances. Is there an investment you’re looking in to? Do you want to set up an automatic savings deposit? Do you need to talk to your kids about spending? Write it all out.
  • Use your mind dump to come up with your next actions and project lists. If you wrote down set up automatic safety deposit, turn that into a project, with the first action being find number to bank so you can call them.
  • Review your financial goals. Reviewing goals consistently is key if you want to accomplish them.

You’re weekly review doesn’t have to take that long. If you keep track of your spending daily, you’ll have fewer receipts to process. If you’re not including this in your weekly planning start this week. You’ll see an amazing increase in the sense of control over your finances.

Google Talk as GTD Capture System

Written by Brett McKay

There’s this guy that I sit behind in property class that is always doing something else on his laptop instead of listening to the professor. For the past few week’s I’ve noticed him typing stuff into a little box in the bottom of his screen. At first I thought he was using an idea capture tool like GyroQ to capture his ideas. Instant productivity envy and fear that this guy was going to set the curve on the exam filled my soul. But then I got a closer look. The guy is really just chatting on Google Talk. The envy and fear left, but an idea was born. Google Talk GTD Capture System.

Here’s how it works.

First, create a “dummy” account with Google. This is the account you will be “chatting” with.

Second, Send messages to yourself on Google Talk when you have an idea. That’s it.

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The really handy part is what happens to those messages after you send them. All chat sessions on Google Talk are saved in your Gmail account under “Chats.” This has three very powerful advantages to other idea capture tools.

  • First, your notes are filed in chronological order, so doing daily and weekly reviews won’t require remembering when you wrote that note. The date is already there and filed accordingly.

Second, you can add categories to your chat sessions to yourself. Thus, you have the ability to easily add contexts to your notes. If you have GTDGMail

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  • Finally, you have the power of Gmail’s search feature at your disposal. Need all your notes on that trip to Rome you’re planning? Type in “trip” or “Rome” or whatever and let Gmail retrieve your notes. It’s like having a reference file without having to really file anything.

I’ve just started to use this system and have been really happy with it. I’ve been looking for a good computer based capture system, but have not been happy with the plethora of digital scratch pads or sticky notes that are out there. Sure, they’re handy for writing an idea down, but organizing them was a pain. Now I have Google to do that for me. I love you Google.

New GTD Law School Productivity Forms

Written by Brett McKay

Last week I posted on how I GTD in law school. I included a link to a form that I have been been using. It worked well for me, but I wasn’t really satisfied with it. So yesterday I sat down and got to work on a new one. This is law school productivity sheet 2.0.

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The new weekly agenda includes a daily goal tracker at the top of each day.

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Each day I set a goal for four things. Contacts is a goal for the amount of new people I want to meet that day, either in person or online. The idea is to be constantly increasing my network. O stands for the number of outlines I want to review that day. F stands for how many sets of flashcards I want to review that day. Mp3 represents the number of times I want to listen to an Mp3 lecture that day. Of course I have to determine which subject and topic I want to listen for that day. Under the realized, I make a hash mark for the number of times I actually do the task. I like this method of goal setting. It’s ugly, but gets the job done. I might be fine tuning this in the future.

I’ve changed up my goal sheet. I still have sections for my semester goals as well as my GTD contexts. The thing that I like most is the monthly calendar in the bottom corner. It lets me keep track of due dates that are far off in the future, like my trial brief.

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I’m pretty happy this upgrade. As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be tweaking my daily goal tracking. I’m still not completely satisfied, but it will have to do for now.

Feel free to download and use these sheets. I hope they can help. I put them on the same sheet. One on one side of the sheet, the other on the other side. Enjoy.

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